After Britain's passing of the historic referendum to withdraw from the European Union, the UK's leading prelate stressed the need to continue working with the international community, and to ensure that the vulnerable in society remain protected.

“A great tradition of the United Kingdom is to respect the will of the people, expressed at the ballot box,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster in a statement Friday. “Today we set out on a new course that will be demanding on all.”

“Our prayer is that all will work in this task with respect and civility, despite deep differences of opinion,” the cardinal continued.

“We pray that in this process the most vulnerable will be supported and protected, especially those who are easy targets for unscrupulous employers and human traffickers.”

The British withdrawal from the European Union referendum — popularly known as “Brexit” — was passed by a narrow margin on Thursday. The results were released early Friday morning, showing that 52% of British citizens had voted to exit the EU.

Debates leading up to the referendum centered on a variety of concerns, including the impact such a decision would have on immigration and the economy, both in Britain and Europe.

“We pray that our nations will build on our finest traditions of generosity, of welcome for the stranger and shelter for the needy,” said Cardinal Nichols said.

“We now must work hard to show ourselves to be good neighbours and resolute contributors in joint international efforts to tackle the critical problems our world today.”

Over 30 million people — nearly 72% — took to the polls for the historic the referendum, the highest voting turnout the nation had seen since 1992, the BBC reports.

In response to Friday's results, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would be stepping down in October. Cameron had been a supporter of the “Remain” campaign from the start, the BBC said.

In a June 24 interview shortly after the results of the referendum came through, Catholic Herald editor Luke Coppen told CNA he was surprised by the outcome, but said it was impossible at this juncture to know how it would affect British Catholics.

“We have no data about how Catholics voted, but certainly Catholics were vocal on both sides of the debate,” he said. “I suppose the result leaves Catholics divided.”

Coppen added that most of the nation's bishops favored remaining in the EU, “so I think they are likely to feel deeply disappointed this morning.”

“The vote is historic, but the long-term consequences are obviously certain. I hope that after a bruising and at times quite unpleasant referendum debate, there will be a resurgence of kindness, neighbourliness and compassion.”

Britain has been part of the EU since 1973 when it joined European Economic Community, later to be known as the EU. The June 23 referendum was the second such vote pertaining to British membership in the EU, the first taking place in 1975.

Anian Christoph Wimmer contributed to this story.